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					                     November 2000                           LAND INFORMATION                               B        ulletin
                                                                    from the National Consortium for Rural Geospatial InnovationS
                                                                              Great Plains, University of North Dakota




                                                                  Making Road Travel Safer
                                                                 GIS Paves the Way for Advanced
                                                            Transportation Weather Information System


                                                  The University of North Dakota’s Regional Weather Information Center has taken a big
                                                  step in making road travel safer across the northern Great Plains. America’s first rural,
                                                  multistate, in-vehicle travel-information center began as a research project several years
                                                  ago. Now, more than 6 million people in three states (North Dakota, South Dakota,
                                                  Minnesota) have access to this advanced weather forecasting system that covers more
                                                  than 27,000 miles of interstates, U.S. highways and state highways. RGIS—Great Plains
                                                  played an important role by integrating geographic information system (GIS) technology
                                                  into the field of automated, computer-based weather forecasting and information delivery.




                                                  M
                                                            ore than a century ago, pioneers traveled slowly across the Great Plains, but
                  Winter driving in the Dakotas             were prepared for the elements. Today, people cover hundreds of miles in a
                                                            day through areas that have differing weather conditions. Checking the “local”
                                                  weather on television or radio is not the best way to monitor conditions for long-distance
                                                  travel.

                                                  Drivers traversing the expanse of the northern Great Plains now have some added travel
                                                  insurance: the Advanced Transportation Weather Information System (ATWIS).
                                                  Commonly referred to as the “pound safe” (#SAFE) system, ATWIS is the nation’s first
                                                  in-vehicle, rural, multistate traveler-information system. Begun as a research project at
                                                  the University of North Dakota’s Regional Weather Information Center in 1995, its pur-
                                                  pose was to demonstrate how state-of-the-art weather analysis could be teamed with other
                                                  technologies to deliver up-to-the-minute road and weather conditions to drivers.

                                                  An innovative weather forecasting decision-support system (DSS) combines “nowcasts,”
                                                  forecasts and information from road-surface sensors with a geographic information inter-
                                                  face to improve the accuracy of weather and road reports for specific road segments. The
                                                  DSS evaluates complex information making it possible to identify specific travel corri-
John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences,     dors, providing—via cellular phones, pagers and other portable devices—present and
         home of the University of North Dakota   forecast weather information for travelers in a matter of minutes.
           Regional Weather Information Center
                            A traveler uses the
                  ATWIS #SAFE Cellular Interface     Integrating Technologies
                                                     When developing the system, Regional Weather Information Center staff were seeking
                                                     a way to combine short-term, site-specific forecasts that could be rapidly disseminated
                                                     to travelers. They set out to seamlessly merge weather forecasting and analysis,
                                                     telecommunications, geographic information systems (GIS), and road-condition moni-
                                                     toring. Specifically, the system requirements included:

                                                     • Twenty-four-hour-per-day operations for timeliness
                                                     • Application of research in high-resolution weather prediction modeling for detailed
                                                       site-specific forecasts,
                                                     • A geographic information system interface that would reference the road layer with
      An example of a site-specific                    the weather layer
       weather forecast message                      • A central database location accessible by the traveling public, and
                                                     • Clear, direct lines of communication between the operational forecast center and all
The following road conditions report and weather       weather and road condition data sources available.
forecast is sponsored in part by the North Dakota
Department of Transportation. For travelers on
North Dakota Interstate 94 eastbound from mile       How the System Works
marker two hundred seventy-two traveling toward      The forecasts and road condition reports are provided upon request by the user
Fargo North Dakota. Traffic speeds are reduced       through a computer-telephone interface, known as a computer telephony (CT). A
due to poor visibility. Roadway is snow-covered.     traveler simply accesses the CT with a wireless device—typically a cell phone—
Drivers should stay alert to changing conditions.    through a special switch number: #SAFE (#7233). Users answer three to four ques-
The Forecast until nine o’clock Central Time this    tions to determine their location and direction of travel. The system determines the
Tuesday evening: Skies will be overcast becoming     traveler’s next 50 to 60 miles and constructs a weather forecast and road-conditions
mostly cloudy. Visibility will be less than one-     report for the specific lane of travel. Within a minute and 35 seconds, a traveler has
quarter mile changing to near zero with blowing      site-specific information for making travel decisions.
snow. There will be frequent moderate snow end-
ing. Winds will be ten miles per hour gusting to     The computer telephony system needs specific geographic information to link driver
fifteen miles per hour from the north-northwest      location to the site-specific weather information and road conditions provided by the
changing to thirty-five miles per hour gusting to    computer. This is where GIS enters. A digital data set of all roads within the project
forty from the northwest. Temperatures will range    area, partitioned into one-mile segments, resides within the GIS. Position information
from eight to ten degrees decreasing to minus two    in latitude and longitude has been calculated for the endpoints of every mile segment,
to minus six degrees.

                                                                  Total number of site-specific requests since inception of ATWIS,
                                                                  November 1995 to July 1999
                                                    180,000

                                                    160,000

                                                    140,000

                                                    120,000

                                                    100,000

                                                     80,000

                                                     60,000

                                                     40,000

                                                     20,000

                                                         0
                                                        Nov Jan Mar May Jul Sep Nov Jan Mar May Jul Sep NovJan Mar May Jul Sep Nov Jan Mar May Jul
Forecasters use the decision-support system      and this information has been entered into the main database where it is linked with
                to provide weather forecasts     current and forecasted conditions.

                                                 In the beginning of the ATWIS project, road segments were grouped into roughly 60-
                                                 mile increments to conform to the forecasting area size and abilities of the meteorologist
                                                 to generate forecasts. Travelers were either in one segment or another, although the tech-
                                                 nology did have the ability to recognize if they were just about to leave one segment and
                                                 enter another. As the technology improved, spatial resolution of the forecast models
                                                 increased, allowing the length of the forecast segments to decrease. This makes for a
                                                 much more dynamic system—it allows the decision-support system to relate small-scale
                                                 weather features, such as isolated thunder showers, to only those travelers that are
                                                 affected by the weather event.




 Road coverage of ATWIS totals approximately 27,000 miles in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota
                                             Acknowledgements
                                             The University of North Dakota (UND), Regional Weather Information Center would
                                             like to recognize the support of the National Consortium for Rural Geospatial
                                             Innovations (RGIS), and the University of North Dakota (UND), John D. Odegard
            About RGIS                       School of Aerospace Sciences. We would also like to thank Jerome Horner, North
                                             Dakota Department of Transportation Maintenance Engineer, Edwin Ryen, North
  The National Consortium for Rural
  Geospatial Innovations–Great Plains        Dakota State Assistant Maintenance Engineer, Dave Huft, South Dakota Research
  (RGIS-Great Plains) is located in the      Engineer, Norman Humphrey, South Dakota Construction/Maintenance Engineer,
  John D. Odegard School of Aerospace        Stephen Busek, North Dakota Federal Highway Administration office, a number of
  Sciences, home of the University of        FHWA personnel in both the South Dakota office and in Washington, D.C., and more
  North Dakota’s Regional Weather            recently, with respect to growth and improvement of the system, Roger Hille, Stephen
  Information Center. It is a USDA pro-
                                             Baylor, and others in the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
  gram designed to promote the use of
  geospatial information and technologies
  by communities in rural America. RGIS      Selected References
  is dedicated to helping communities        Osborne, Leon F., Block, C., James, M., Hahn, B., Borho, A., Owens, M., 1997.
  understand the concepts and benefits of    “Short-Range Weather Forecasting Decision Support within Rural Advanced
  using geospatial data and assisting them   Transportation Weather Information System (ATWIS).” 1997 AMS International
  in all aspects of GIS development.
                                             Conference, Long Beach, California.

                                             Owens, Mark S. 2000. “America’s 1st Rural In-Vehicle Advanced Traveler
                                             Information System: The Use and Cost of the #SAFE System.” Rural Advanced
                                             Technology and Transportation Conference, Branson, MO.




RGIS—Great Plains
Regional Weather Information Center
University of North Dakota
4125 University Ave.
257 Odegard Hall
Grand Forks, ND 58202-9007

				
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